Miss International increasing disability awareness

September 13, 2009 9:18:38 AM PDT
Beauty pageants are not just about looks. But some like the International Pageants are based on accomplishments. This is why a profoundly deaf candidate was crowned Miss International. Even though Jayna Altman's reign as Miss International 2008 ended several weeks ago, her commitment to increasing disability awareness will never end.

"My platform is, I can inspire confidence in your abilities now with the focus that we're all born differently, we all have different types of strengths and weaknesses, and in those weaknesses, rather than labeling it as disability, it's just a different type of ability," Altman said.

Twenty-seven-year-old Jayna Altman was Miss Missouri in the Miss International competition. She got interested in beauty contests after her mom dared her to watch the Miss America Pageant.

"And she said that if I watched her and I guessed the winner I could have $100, and as a 12-year-old, $100 was a lot of money. So I was like, 'Okay, I'll do it,' and that was the 1995 Miss America Pageant in which Heather Whitestone won," Altman said.

Altman's deafness is a result of complications from being born premature. She was told she would never be able to develop understandable speech.

"Well, I resolved that I was going to learn how to speak, and then also by learning how to speak, I became a speech and debate champion just to prove to others that it doesn't matter what your given to in life or the cards that you dealt," said Altman.

Altman is also fluent in American Sign Language. Miss International Pageants focuses on the accomplishments of young women between the ages of 19 and 27.

"We have a number of different series of competition for Miss International. We don't have a bathing suit competition, but we have what's called a fitness funwear, not funwear, but a fitness competition that is part of the judging process," said Altman.

While competing for Miss International 2008, being deaf was never an issue for Altman.

"If anything, it taught me I need to be creative and think outside the box, whether in terms of accommodations for example last year this very stage I couldn't hear them call my name, so I was standing at the top of the stage going, 'What?' So what we did, we devised a simple head turn from the MC that it almost looked natural, because they were looking to see us go down to the stage," Altman said.

Altman said this not only has been a phenomenal experience for her, it gave her an opportunity a share her life mission.

"I served as a spokesperson for Special Olympics and Ability Beyond Disability, and those two organizations focus on empowering, providing hope and independence for individuals with different types of abilities," said Altman.

Altman is working on her doctorate in audiology. She hopes some day to be a professor focusing on the psychology behind deafness.

For more information on Jayna Altman and the International Pageants go to www.miss-international.us and www.jaynaaltman.com.


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